The Collection

Rising Tides: Reflections for Climate Changing Times

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Excerpts from the Introduction

Catriona Sandilands

For many Canadians, any talk of climate change immediately conjures terrifying images of large-scale, apocalyptic transformations: dramatically melting glaciers, persistent catastrophic droughts, small islands submerged by rising sea levels. Recent news reports bring these dire stories very close to home. Heat-related deaths in Québec. Rapidly shrinking Arctic sea ice and melting permafrost across the North. Unprecedented BC and Alberta wildfires. Areas of severe and ongoing drought in the Prairies. Torrential rainstorms and flooding in Southern Ontario. Rising sea levels and extreme storm surges in Atlantic Canada. According to a recent report by Environment and Climate Change Canada, “both past and future warming in Canada is, on average, about double the magnitude of global warming. Northern Canada has warmed and will continue to warm at more than double the global rate.” The apocalyptic images are not just alarmist rhetoric: by pretty clear scientific consensus, there is ample reason to be afraid….

Literary works and other kinds of storytelling can help us to notice, feel, understand, talk about, and respond to the unfolding realities of climate change in ways that better acknowledge the personal complexities of our social and environmental relationships. Recent years have seen a proliferation of novels and stories – especially but not only for young adult readers – that include climate changing worlds. Although for many years, the weight of literary work on global warming has been borne primarily by writers of speculative fiction, increasing scientific consensus and popular awareness of the certainty of both global and local change has helped shift the terrain to include a wider range of forms and genres….

As the evidence mounts, both present and near-future fictions have come to focus increasingly on … thorny questions of persistence, adaptation, resistance, and renewal. Climate change stories are no longer, if they ever were, only a matter of speculation; they are also, more and more, not confined to fiction, as personal climate testimonies also move into the mainstream….

Climate-focused fiction, nonfiction, and poetry also open space for us to take a hard look at our daily lives in the context of the large sweep of environmental history. Climate change often becomes real to us in small ways: in changes to our accustomed experiences of seasonal foods and activities; in the plants that can no longer grow where we live and the animals that have left for good (and in the new ones that are now appearing); in mounting anxieties over Lyme Disease and West Nile Virus; in the new normalcy of smoke-grey summer skies and submerged homes in floodplain communities in the spring. From there, we may discover that many of these changes are about more than global warming: they are also about the transnational movement of exotic species, the effects of suburban sprawl, the direct impacts of resource extraction and industrial agriculture on local land and marine ecologies.

Also, although these experiences of climate change are not always immediately apocalyptic for everyone, they are often catastrophic for some people more than others. As Kyle Powys Whyte notes, Indigenous peoples have a lot more intimate experience of apocalypse than many others, and understand histories of climate change to include the transformations wrought by genocide and settler agriculture in the 19th century as well as those wrought by melting ice in the 21st. Sharing climate stories that begin with reflections on our everyday observations, and that genuinely respond to the lived experiences of others, can help us to join these dots better, allowing us to understand climate change as exacerbating ongoing problems of inequality and injustice.

Thoughtful works of art and literature are indispensable tools in this critical, emotionally complex project, and Rising Tides is a small response to this large demand. The collection includes 43 works of short fiction, poetry, and literary nonfiction that, together, create a constellation of reflections for, and responses to, our climate changing times. They speak of grief, fear, anger, hope, curiosity, determination, resilience, solidarity. They draw direct and metaphoric connections between personal experiences and planetary crises. Some are raw, some are wistful, some are awe-struck. Some are even funny. What the contributors share is a commitment to creating works that draw climate change down into intimate experiences, to show the quotidian textures of its past, present, and future ecological upheavals. They also share an understanding that anthropogenic climate change is neither an isolated nor a new phenomenon. It is linked to settler-colonialism, petrocapitalism, industrial pollution and waste, habitat loss, automobility, deforestation, consumerism….

None of the writings in Rising Tides will lead directly to “solving” climate change. This is a large-scale project that requires not only observation and imagination, but also political will, thoughtful technology, and economic transformation. We hope, however, that our work will inspire others to reflect more deeply on their own experiences, and to share and talk about them with others. Rising Tides prompts us to continue the difficult process of coming to terms with the changes that are already happening, and of transforming the present so that the future may not be as bleak as projected in the most apocalyptic models. We hope that our small stories may have large results.

Notes                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Environment and Climate Change Canada. Canada’s Changing Climate Report. 2019.

Kyle Powys Whyte. “Indigenous Science (Fiction) for the Anthropocene: Ancestral Dystopias and Fantasies of Climate Change Crises.” Environment and Planning E 1.1-2, 2018: 224-42.